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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
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Kremlin's Tough Top Diplomat, Russian Foreign Minister Is Nobody's Fool

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov knows how to deliver a "nyet" in all kinds of different ways. He can be taciturn and stubborn, as he was when Moscow expressed its opposition to the NATO missile shield in Europe, and he can be angry, as when he delivered the Kremlin's veto of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria at the weekend. (The West's comments, he said, were "bordering on hysteria". But he is also capable of delivering a "nyet" with a wink, as he did when he, a chain smoker, resisted then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal to ban smoking at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Sometimes, however, Lavrov just can't say no. In early February, for example, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had just made an unsuccessful telephone call to Lavrov over the Syria conflict, the Russian foreign minister paid a visit to the tiny island nation of Fiji in the South Pacific. The trip was prompted by Russia's desire to expand its influence in Asia and Oceania. Hence Lavrov did not complain when his hosts dressed him in a Hawaiian-style shirt and placed a colorful garland around his neck. At his feet, they carried out traditional rituals that required bare torsos and loud shouting. For a man who is usually the personification of Russia's foreign policy self-confidence, his smile, framed by a face covered in sweat, was unusually timid.

On Tuesday, Moscow's top diplomat was on a significantly more sensitive mission to Syria. He was greeted by pro-government crowds on arrival in Damascus, who lined the streets of the capital and waved Russian flags as the foreign minister's motorcade passed.

During talks in Damascus with Bashar Assad, Lavrov called on the Syrian president to do what was needed to ensure peace in the country. "Every leader of every country must be aware of his share of responsibility." Lavrov told Assad at the meeting in Damascus, according to state-run news agency RIA. "You are aware of yours." The foreign minister added: "It's in our interests that the Arab peoples live in peace and harmony."



Farmers Plan Biggest U.S. Crop Boost Since 1984, Led by Corn

By Jeff Wilson and Whitney McFerron - Tue Feb 07 13:40:02 GMT 2012

A grain bin is driven through a field as corn is harvested in Sheffield, Illinois. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

U.S. farmers will plant the most acres in a generation this year, led by the biggest corn crop since World War II, taking advantage of the highest agricultural prices in at least four decades.

They will sow corn, soybeans and wheat on 226.9 million acres, the most since 1984, a Bloomberg survey of 36 farmers, bankers and analysts showed. The 2.5 percent gain means an expansion the size of New Jersey, as growers target fields left fallow last year and land freed up from conservation programs.

Crop prices, some of which reached the highest averages ever in 2011, bolstered the economies of Midwest growing states, sent net farm income up 28 percent to $100.9 billion and pushed the value of farmland to a record $2,350 an acre, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Global food costs are down 11 percent from a peak a year ago as grain output rises from China to Canada, United Nations data show.

“There is unlikely to be any ground that won’t be planted this year,” said Todd Wachtel, a 40 year-old who farms about 5,700 acres in Altamont, Illinois, and plans to expand his corn fields by 21 percent when seeding begins in early April. “Farmers know that they have to plant more when prices are high because they may not last.”



U.S. Seeks ‘Plan B’ to End Syria Violence

By Nicole Gaouette and Flavia Krause-Jackson - Tue Feb 07 15:07:16 GMT 2012

The U.S. and allies are seeking ways to increase pressure on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad after Russian and Chinese vetoes blocked efforts at the United Nations Security Council to support a political transition.

“We’re going to have to take measures outside the UN to strengthen and deepen and broaden the international community pressure on Assad,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will work with allies to create an international support group for Assad’s opposition and to tighten sanctions against Syria, Nuland said. Other steps include pushing Syria’s trade partners to drop business with the regime and halt weapons shipments in particular, she said. Further action at the UN is also on the table, according to UN diplomats who weren’t authorized to comment publicly.

“There will be a ‘Plan B,’” Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, a Washington policy group, said in a telephone interview. “The question is whether it will work and how effective the strategy will be.”



U.S. Says Palestinian Deal ‘Internal’ Matter

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 6, 2012 16:32 EST

WASHINGTON — The United States Monday remained on the sidelines over a deal signed between Hamas and Fatah to end a long-running discord between rival Palestinian movements, saying it was an internal affair.

“As we’ve said many times, questions of Palestinian reconciliation are an internal matter for Palestinians,” said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The accord signed in Qatar was welcomed by officials from both Palestinian movements, but Israel warned Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and making peace with the Jewish state.

Nuland highlighted that Hamas, an Islamist group which runs the Gaza Strip, was considered a terrorist organization by Washington and stressed the US expectations of the Palestinian leadership “have not changed.”



Israel Condemns Palestinian Reconciliation Deal

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday took a decisive step toward reconciliation with the Islamic militant Hamas, agreeing to head an interim unity government that would prepare for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The announcement immediately threw Mideast peace efforts into turmoil. By moving closer to Hamas, the Palestinian leader appeared to be closing the door, for now, to any possibility of peace talks with Israel — although all such efforts have failed to get off the ground during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's three years in office.

Netanyahu condemned Monday's deal, saying it would be impossible to reach peace with a government that includes Hamas, which Israel and the West consider a terrorist group.

"It is either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can't have them both," Netanyahu said.



Oil May Hit $160 Amid Tension: Kuwait Official

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 6, 2012 3:42 EST

Oil prices could soar to as high as $160 a barrel if tension over an Iranian oil embargo persists or in the event of conflict, a top Kuwaiti oil executive said in remarks published on Monday.

“If the embargo on Iranian oil persists, or in case of a military move over the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, oil prices are expected to soar to around $150 to $160,” Kuwait Petroleum Corporation board member Ali al-Hajeri told Al-Seyassah daily.

Hajeri said such a price would not last long, however, and would return to “normal levels” once the reasons for the rise disappear.

The European Union has slapped an embargo on Iranian oil imports, and Tehran has repeatedly threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for Gulf oil exports, if it was not allowed to export its crude.



Iran Mass Producing Anti-Ship Cruise Missile: TV

(AFP) – 1 day ago

TEHRAN — Iran has begun mass production of an anti-ship cruise missile, state television's website said on Saturday.

The Zafar missile, as it is dubbed in the report, "is a short-range, anti-ship cruise missile capable of destroying small- and medium-sized targets with high precision."

It can be mounted on speed boats and other light vessels, can withstand electronic warfare, and is able to fly in low altitudes to avoid detection, the report said.

Iran has a fleet of speed boats that often challenge US and allied warships in the Gulf.



Russia to Build Effective Shield against NATO Missile Threat – Rogozin

MOSCOW, February 5 (RIA Novosti)

Russia will build a reliable aerospace defense system to effectively counter NATO missile threats, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Sunday.

Rogozin, recently appointed as a deputy prime minister to oversee Russia’s defense industry, said on his Twitter that the global security conference being held in Munich had failed to come to a compromise on creating a European missile defense system.

Rogozin quoted NATO Secretary General Anders Fog Rasmussen as saying that NATO would continue “to develop a missile defense system because we feel a strong responsibility to protect our populations effectively against the missile threat."

“Well, as for us, we also feel responsibility for protecting our population from your missile threat and will create a reliable air and space defense,” Rogozin, who served as Russia’s envoy to NATO before his new appointment, wrote on his Twitter account.



Pacifists Protest Possible War Against Iran

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, February 4, 2012 21:42 EST

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated Saturday in New York and pacifist groups took to the streets in dozens of other US and Canadian cities in a “Day of Mass Action” against a possible war with Iran.

About 500 protesters gathered in Manhattan’s Times Square and marched to the headquarters of the US mission to the United Nations and to the Israeli consulate.

“No war, no sanctions, no intervention, no assassinations,” read a banner leading the march.

The demonstrations came as Europe and the United States slapped tough new sanctions on Iran, and Israel this week launched new threats of military intervention if the Islamic republic fails to rein in its suspected nuclear development program.



Proxy War in Syria Threatens Catastrophe for the Middle East

Saturday 4 February 2012
by: Shamus Cooke, Veracity Voice | News Analysis

In an effort to undermine Iran by overthrowing its strategic ally, Syria, western nations are using their Middle East client states to conduct a multi-pronged attack against Syria through the media, the Arab League, the United Nations and now through military proxy forces. This fact is widely recognized by many mainstream western media sources. For example, the well-connected pro-western magazine, the Economist, casually states:

“Iran and Russia aide the [Syrian government] regime; Saudi Arabia and Turkey favor the rebels… Left alone, the rival camps will fuel a worsening conflict that could destabilize the entire region.” (January 28, 2012).

Of course Saudi Arabia and Turkey are key U.S. allies. Saudi Arabia doesn’t sneeze until first consulting its U.S. ambassador.

A grouping of U.S. client states known as the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain — recently dealt a death blow to the Arab League’s monitoring mission in Syria and are now demanding that the UN Security Council take all “necessary measures” — presumably including an invasion — to ensure regime change in Syria, the same diplomatic maneuver that the U.S. and its European partners in NATO used to justify its mass bombing campaign of Libya.


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